How Long Do I Have to Sue?
One of the most frequent questions we are asked at Seikaly, Stewart, and Bennett is, “How long do I have to sue?”. Statutes of limitation can be very complex and the information given here should not be considered legal advice about how long a person has in any given situation to bring a lawsuit. However, here are some general guidelines that will help you understand why it is important not to wait too long.
Lawsuits on most contracts must be brought within six years of the time that the contract is breached by one or more parties. For example, if someone owes you money on an installment contract and pays faithfully for five years but then stops paying, you have six years from the date that the payment became overdue to start a lawsuit to recover the money owed.
PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS
Many different statutes of limitation apply to personal injury and, once again, this is not intended to be legal advice as to any particular claim. But generally speaking, claims for most personal injuries, such as automobile accidents, slip and falls and other general negligence must be brought within three years of the time that the accident happens. Claims based on intentional wrongs, such as assault, must usually be brought within two years. Libel and slander have a shorter time than most other claims and must be brought within one year.
Malpractice is a more complex area when it comes to the statute of limitations. The usual rule is that you have two years from the date that the malpractice was actually committed to file a notice warning the doctor or hospital you intend to sue. This notice must be filed as a pre-condition to suit anyway; and if you file it within two years of the malpractice it can, under some circumstances, extend by six months the amount of time that you have to actually file your lawsuit. If you had no reasonable way of knowing that malpractice had been committed upon you within the first two years, you can still file your notice within six months of the time that you could first have been aware that you had a possible claim provided that it is not more than six years from the date of the actual malpractice. Damage to the reproductive system also results in more time and, if the claimant is a minor, you have the amount of time that an adult would have or until the minor’s tenth birthday, whichever would give more time.
If the person with the claim has died, additional time may be available under a rule that says that you have two years from the date that a personal representative is appointed provided that the statute of limitations had not already expired more than thirty days before the death occurred. However, the statue of limitations may not be extended for more than three years based on this provision; and is not extended by the filing of a notice of intent to claim.
PRODUCT LIABILITY CLAIMS
Injuries based on defective products must be brought within three years of the date that the injury occurs. There is no extension of time for late discovery of the fact that the product was defective or the cause of your injury. However, if the claim is based on a defect in an aircraft, the claim cannot be brought more than twenty years after the aircraft was manufactured, even if the injury did not occur until after that time.
CLAIMS BASED ON DEFECTIVE BUILDINGS
Suits against architects or building contractors for injuries caused by defects in buildings must be brought within three years of the injury, but cannot be brought more than six years after the building was first released for occupancy. That time may be extended to ten years where the negligence leading to the defect is found to be gross and the claim is brought within one year of the date that the defect could reasonably have been discovered.
TOLLING OF THE STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS
There are special provisions on the law that sometimes will toll (freeze) the statute of limitations. For example, a minor (except in medical malpractice cases) can sue up to the regular statute of limitations time period, or the minor’s 19th birthday (whichever would provide more time) for an injury occurring while the child was a minor. For medical malpractice cases, the age is 10 rather than 19; 15 where the injury is to the reproductive system. If a person is mentally incapacitated, tolling can also occur. Other provisions can provide tolling, so it is always wise to seek further advice, before assuming that it is too late, even if it appears that a statute of limitations has expired.
The statute of limitations may be shortened by other factors. For example, if you wish to sue a governmental authority for flood damage, notice of the potential claim must be given within fourty-five days of the time it occurs. Claims against governmental agencies for road defects may not be brought if notice was not given within six months of the injury. Sometimes, parties to a contract can agree to shorten the period of limitations as well.
OBTAIN SOUND ADVICE ON STATUES OF LIMITATIONS
As indicated above, you should not rely upon the information here to make decisions about the statute of limitations. It is essential that a competent attorney be consulted to be certain that claims are filed within the applicable limitation periods.